A child bullied to death is a horrible thing. The bullies are usually children themselves, too young to be held legally accountable. But whatever lessons are legally teachable should be taught, and harshly – and if financial compensation can be extracted from bullies’ families, so much the better. That probably sums up the general feeling.
In September 2014, a 14-year-old Sendai boy committed suicide. He left no note. Bullying was the assumed cause, and the city-administered junior high school where the boy was a first-year student launched an investigation. Eleven boys were requested by school authorities to provide background information.
One of the 11 was a boy whom Shukan Josei, in its coverage, calls “Ryota.” He’d been a friend of the dead boy – “he cried when he heard the news,” his mother tells the magazine – and he readily agreed to cooperate. Later, Ryota’s family learned that the school grouped its witnesses into three categories: “perpetrator,” “victim” and “uninvolved.” The victim of course was the deceased. Ryota found himself labeled a “perpetrator.”
The information he gave, as summarized by Shukan Josei, describes a mild exchange of teasing such as all school kids inflict and suffer. They called each other names, and laughed at each other. No, said Ryota, he had never called the deceased a “pervert.” Apparently someone did.
Ryota’s life has been turned upside down. He has high school entrance exams to study for, but his concentration is shot. It’s not even clear whether he’ll be able to enter a school in his neighborhood – or continue to live in it, for that matter. Once you’ve been dubbed a “perpetrator,” the image sticks to you.
“School is definitely no fun anymore,” he says ruefully. “I only go at all because if I stay away, people will say I’m guilty.”
The school set up a special commission to look into the affair. It concluded that while there had been teasing, which perhaps the school should have taken steps to tone down, it amounted to nothing systematic or malicious enough to be called bullying.
The dead boy’s family was not satisfied. The school had been negligent, they felt, and the children involved, now narrowed down from 11 to seven, had not even apologized. They requested court mediation, which began in February and ended in June – inconclusively. The seven children persisted in denying they’d done anything that qualifies as bullying, and the school disclaimed responsibility. The bereaved parents immediately filed a civil suit, demanding 55 million yen in compensation.
Court proceedings will grind on for some time. “If this is their whole case,” Shukan Josei quotes Ryota’s lawyer as saying, “We can’t lose.” But until they win – if they win – Ryota and the other boys are in for a rough ride. If they’re guilty, the rougher the better, we might say. But if they’re not?© Japan Today